This paper reports on developments in teaching and learning for first year employment relations students at the University of Wollongong based on creating conditions of learning informed by Vygotsky’s ‘zone of proximal development’ theory. Essentially, this meant emphasising collaborative learning (group work) in the lecture theatre and in assessment tasks to provide opportunities for students to ‘learn the language’ of employment relations. The paper also considers collaboration between an employment relations discipline lecturer and an learning development discipline lecturer that helped identify the objectives for teaching and learning (the desired attributes of a Wollongong Graduate, ethical concerns about how students’ may affect one another in group work, and developing knowledge and skills to equip students to be effective in employment relations practice) within a particular task environment (characterised by an organisational imperative to ‘do more with less’, and students’ beliefs that lectures have the purpose of didactic information delivery) simultaneously with teaching. This paper offers readers a case study of the application of a teaching and learning theory that may stimulate reflection on their practice.